September 29, 2008 - 6:58 AM
Really? A half marathon?
When my friend Joe suggested that I could indeed run 13.1 mile, I thought he might be drinking some weird kind of Koolaid. Then I brought it up to my tri coach, Mary. "Sign up!" she said. "You'll be ready."
But I hadn't trained for long distance running. I had trained for basically cross-training races.
Still, Sunday morning my dear friend Joe and I were driving up to St. Catharines in the rain for the annual Run for the Grapes half marathon.
By the time we got to the starting line, I was full of doubt.
"Do you really think I can do this?" I asked Joe.
"I know you can do this," he said.
"Why do you think I can do this?" I replied.
Yes. I was THAT insecure.
We started off at a light pace which of course felt OK, but I made the mistake of wearing my watch. At the first 5K I noted that I wasn't running my 5K pace.
"Amy, you're not supposed to run your 5K pace," Joe said. "You shouldn't be near it. You're not running a 5K."
Fair and valid point. But there was a three-hour cutoff and I was uncertain I'd make it. My goal time was two and a half hours. My personal "ideal" time was 2 hours and 20 minutes. My coach thought I could do it in about 2 hours and 15 minutes, but she tends to set slightly aggressive goals.
The course was nice, starting through a development then out onto a farm road. We wrapped back around to run through some vineyards where the smell of grapes was lush and thick. I took in the scenery and made slight comments to Joe, who was patiently running my pace beside me.
"Are you sure you don't want to just run your race?" I had asked him about a million times before, and even during, the race. Joe has run a few marathons and half marathons before and has had an incredible summer setting about six different PRs. He could easily have taken this race in a PR about 40 minutes faster than I could run it.
But nope, he wanted to see me through my first half marathon.
Through this journey this summer I've learned you can meet some pretty special people. And I've certainly meet plenty who have taken that inkling of doubt which creeps back into my head from time to time and have squashed it for me. For that, I am ever grateful.
The one downfall of the half marathon in Ontario -- all the markers were in kilometers. I had my head set on running 13.1 miles so I needed to shift my frame of reference. We figured we were running about four 5Ks during the race, so I mentally broke it down that way.
When I got to 15K, I needed some mathematical help. I had run the Fleet Feet 15K before, which was 9.3 miles. I knew that today I was running 13.1 miles. So what's the math? I asked Joe.
He started calculating kilometers.
"No, do the math," I insisted. "I can't do the math right now. Or ever really."
"I'm trying to," he said and I patiently waited while he went through the kilometers again.
"Yeah, but 13.1 minutes 9.3 is how many miles?" I asked again. "Do the math for me!"
Joe laughed. Just run.
My race strategy felt good. I had taken some shot blocks with me. They're similar to the gels that runners use but are gummy squares instead. For me, it felt more like getting a bit of food and I could space them out better than taking an entire gel. At each water station I grabbed a cup of water, walked for 20 to 30 seconds as I sipped, then started running again.
There were about 4 kilometers left to run and my legs were burning. It felt like the wizard had come and hit them repeatedly with a paddle. Settle into the pain, I thought. You're almost home.
As we approached downtown St. Catharines I started to cry just a bit. I was going to do this. Really. I was going to finish. The entire summer was now over and six triathlons and a half marathon later I am such a stronger person.
I crossed the line in 2 hours and 16 minutes, was handed a bottle of water and a finisher's medal.
I'm wearing that medal all week long as a way to celebrate what I've accomplished and as a reminder that there's no telling what we can achieve when we stop calculating and just decide to be our true selves.